The Misnomer of Conservatism

As we "conservatives" thrash about trying to find who is a real conservative, we should also seek to find what we mean by conservative.  Conservatism, supposedly, is like a stool with three legs:  Fiscal, Social, and National Security.  Those three concerns are what identify those of us on the "Right."  Yet those of us who call ourselves conservatives see the silliness of that definition.  If there were no national security threat, would those "National Security" conservatives cease to be conservative?  No, of course not.  If the national debt and entitlements were not obscenely vast, would those "Fiscal" conservatives cease to be conservative?  Again, no.  If Roe v. Wade were overruled and Americans began returning to churches and synagogues, would "Social" conservatives whither away?  The very question seems absurd.

Why, then, do we have so many problems identifying what conservatism is in American politics?  There is an easy, though not simple, answer to that question:  What we have come to call "conservative" or the Right is a group of principles whose definitional names have been invented by those who hate those principles. 

Who gave us the terms "Left" and "Right"?  The atheistic, murderous French Revolutionaries, who were  themselves on the Left Bank of the Seine,  and whose implacable enemies were on the Right Bank of the Seine.  These monsters, overshadowed by the evils of other Leftists later, were quite prepared, by their own admission, to kill one quarter of the population of France - many millions of people - to achieve their revolutionary aims.

Who invented the terms "liberal," "conservative," "progressive," "reactionary," "revolutionary," "radical," and "moderate" in the sense that we use those terms today?  Karl Marx and those who largely accepted the Marxian view of things created this lexicon of political shades.  Marx, who influenced Lenin, Mussolini and Mao, has been allowed from the grave to give us those words that we use to describe our politics today. 

Orwell presciently told us that language is the key to politics.  He also warned us that the intention of those who seek power was to drain meaning from words so that we could not cogently grasp the enemy or his weapons.  So we conservatives call ourselves "conservative" without any real notion of what that is supposed to mean.  We consider ourselves on the Right in some notional ideological spectrum, without really knowing what this spectrum is supposed to represent.

Consider the silliness of words like "conservative" and "liberal," if we actually give those words their commonsense meaning.   Which American would most conservatives view as one of their own?  Thomas Jefferson would be high on the list.  He supported  states' rights; he dreaded an imperial judiciary; we believed that the government which governed least was the best government; he believed strongly in the American Dream (he is recognized as the father of American Exceptionalism); he also deeply revered Western Civilization and its contributors.  Thomas Jefferson would be considered an arch-conservative on most issues today.

 But what was Jefferson, if we use the ordinary meaning of the words we have been given to describe politics?  He was a liberal, because he believed in freedom (the ordinary meaning of the word relates to Latin libera.  He was a conservative, because he sought to conserve those traditional rights which Americans had possessed as subjects of the Crown under English Common Law.  He was a radical, who wrote the transformative Declaration of Independence and who made the radical gamble on America implicit in the Louisiana Purchase.  He was a reactionary, because he sought to "turn back the clock," when the British tried to redefine the status of colonials by depriving them of rights which Englishmen had under Common Law.  He was a revolutionary, because he reached the conclusion that only a revolutionary war could do justice to the American cause.  He was a moderate, because he sought a tranquil, limited, apolitical government.

What Jefferson "was" ideologically was defined by the particular events happening at the time and upon the context it which those events happened.  Yet Jefferson was not inconsistent it his political views:  he was very consistent.  He did not change, but rather the meaningless terms to define his actions and words had to change to meet the consistency of Jefferson.  It is not unimportant that Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers never used terms like "liberal" or "conservative" or "progressive."  And, despite the fact that his Presidency came after the French Revolution, Jefferson never used the term "Left" or "Right."  Jefferson, one of the most brilliant and learned political thinkers in history, never used the silly language that we do today to describe political thought.

Did that mean that Jefferson did not write about politics and government?  Quite the contrary:  He wrote extensively, brilliantly, lucidly, and deeply.  What he wrote about was not ideology, but rather specific principles that he believed were essential for good government.  Jefferson believed in very limited government.  He believed in strong individual rights.  He believed in strong states and weak federal government.  He believed that America was unique and vital to the world.  If someone wanted to use a name to describe what Jefferson believed, that was his right, but Jefferson defined himself who he was.

What is true of Jefferson is also true of other Americans who have been plopped by our enemies as being on the "Far Right."  Barry Goldwater, for example, strongly believed in equal protection for blacks before the law.  He supported personally the NAACP in Arizona.  He was utterly free from bigotry himself.  Goldwater also supported environmentalism when it was not popular, but he did that with the recognition that nature is not God and that conservation should be measured and reasonable.  His policies in those areas did not fit into what someone on the "Right" was supposed to believe, but, like Jefferson, Goldwater was quite content to define himself.

What those of us who believe in the importance of liberty in human affairs, the vital goodness of America, the necessity of personal honesty in any healthy society, and the necessity of a Blessed Creator to any noble concept of life is to define ourselves and also to define our enemies.  We who have been called "conservative" (because we somehow have not accepted the Marxian idea of progress) are ultimately just people who believe in truth.  Many "conservatives" came to conservatism (whatever that is) because the Left is so permeated with lies and self-delusion (Exhibit A:  Global Warming.)

How do we define our enemies?  Some of us might like to call them "socialists," but that is using a vacuous Marxist term to describe a very real attitude. They do not really believe in anything, except power.  Why is Hillary running for president?  She wants power -- it is her turn.  Why did Democrats lust to regain Congress in 2006?  Power is the answer (have they even tried to do anything but harass President Bush?) 

When the craving for power transcends every other human longing, then the importance of truth and honor shrinks to nothing.   The bondage of lies is just as great as any other bondage.  Our enemies seek to manacle us and allow, without always knowing it, themselves to be manacled as well.  So we could call them power addicts, but perhaps the purest term to describe them is as bondsmen in the party of pathological lies.